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Council opposes book banning, adopts Freedom to Read resolution

Friday, September 2, 2022 by Jo Clifton

Council unanimously adopted a resolution Thursday promoting the American Library Association’s Freedom to Read declaration and opposing book banning. According to the resolution, the city supports the Austin Public Library’s materials selection process, recognizing the work of the library and the city’s Library Commission in their work to protect the right to read.

“The freedom to read is about the freedom to think and to exchange ideas. It is an inherent element of the fundamental rights that we enjoy that are the basis of the governance of these United States,” said Council Member Leslie Pool, who sponsored the resolution.

Among other threats to free expression, Texas state Rep. Matt Krause created a “watchlist” of 850 books during the most recent legislative session.

Pool said such assaults on our libraries “have become increasingly frequent as book bans multiply, targeting books involving gender, race, sexual orientation, sexuality, race, human rights, politics.” She commended the Library Commission and Austin Public Library for the “proactive measures” they have taken to protect the freedom to read.

Pool’s co-sponsors included Mayor Pro Tem Alison Alter and Council members Kathie Tovo, Natasha Harper-Madison, Vanessa Fuentes, Ann Kitchen and Chito Vela. After hearing from two citizens who opposed the resolution, Mayor Steve Adler said he wanted his name added to the list of co-sponsors.

Jackie Besinger, who told Council she was representing Moms for Liberty Texas and that she opposed the resolution, said she had examined 400 library books she considered pornographic.

But it was commentary from Brian Talley that got Adler’s attention. Talley declared it was the responsibility of government to protect children from self-destructive behavior, pedophilia and sexual exploitation. Without naming any specific titles, Talley said, “Language about book banning and censorship is a dog whistle by hardened political activists with an agenda, a progressive agenda.”

Adler said Talley’s comments resonated with him – though perhaps not the way the speaker intended. “I would like to be added to your resolution as well,” Adler said.

Vela told his colleagues his mother was a public school librarian. “So I understand personally the challenges and trials associated with this crucial profession. I remember visiting her library as a child and admiring the banned book displays which defied the oppressive nature of state censorship. My support for the ALA Freedom to Read statement represents the lessons I learned from my mother about protecting knowledge and discourse from government overreach.”

Alter, a mother of two, said “for young readers, libraries are a safe place to learn and grow. Censoring the materials in our libraries does not protect readers; it makes them feel more alone. Book banning is incompatible with a healthy democracy.”

Harper-Madison said, “Diverse and dissenting views are part and parcel of a democratic society. At a time when we’re trying to have a much-needed reckoning with racism and bigotry in America, book bans are the last thing we need.”

“Public libraries are central to our democracy,” Tovo said, “and I’m proud that the city of Austin is taking a strong stand against this antidemocratic effort to limit young people’s access to information and knowledge.”

Expressing her support for the resolution, Fuentes said, “The irresponsible book banning we’ve seen happening around the state and country sets an alarming and dangerous precedent. While so many of our civil liberties are dwindling, City Council must be ready and willing to fight back on all fronts.”

Kitchen added, “Books give us the opportunity to see other perspectives; most importantly, perspectives other than our own, something we should embrace.”

Together with local bookseller BookPeople, Austin Public Library has launched “Banned Camp,” a series of events designed to promote the freedom to read and the free exchange of ideas.

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